April 30, 2013 09:45
Most of the 50 remaining South Korean workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex returned home late Monday night after North Korea ignored a deadline Seoul set for talks to keep the factory complex going. But seven are stuck there while the North tries to squeeze every last possible penny out of the South.
They are staff from the committee in charge of operating the industrial park, utility KEPCO, the Korea Water Resources Corporation, the Korea Land and Housing Corporation, telecom provider KT and Woori Bank.
They were scheduled to vacate the complex at 5 p.m. Monday, but North Korean officials, citing unfinished business, effectively took them hostage by refusing to authorize their departure.
Eventually the head of the management committee, Hong Yang-ho, and six others offered to stay so the other 43 could leave. It was not until 9 p.m. that the 43 were permitted to cross the border back to South Korea.
A Unification Ministry official said Pyongyang demanded the payment of unsettled fees, and five staff members of the management committee and two KT workers had to stay behind to settle the issue.
The unpaid money is mostly back wages for North Korean workers, as well as communications fees and corporate taxes, the official said.
"The remaining staff will return after additional negotiations over the fees and method of payment," he added. North Korea is demanding around US$8 million.
In an absurd twist, North Korea is punishing the South Koreans for its own blunders. The South Korean companies pay their staff on the 10th of each month, but since North Korea closed the border on April 3, they were unable to deliver the money.
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